Deck Name: The Manuscript of Initiations Tarot
Creator: Dark Synevyr
Artwork: Ivan Murlika
Publisher & Year: Dark Synevyr, ©2019
Availability: Find this deck on Dark Synevyr’s website
Enter an arcane world of parchment, courtly decorum, and mythic beasts roaming free. Any student of art + history will be familiar with the highly stylized, fantastically elaborate, and unmistakable style of manuscript art that graces + enlivens these cards. This deck however, is unique in that it synthesizes 6 centuries worth of spiritual + secular aesthetics and brings those materials to bear in tarot lore.
Stylistically, the imagery is collage work of various aspects of illuminated manuscripts; including: alchemical symbolism, astrology + astronomy, marginalia, sketches of human-animal hybrids, and various other chimeras + mythological creatures. It is a pastiche of belief systems comprised of magic, sacred mystery, great reverence for the unseen forces of the natural world. And, what I truly appreciate about this deck: it utilizes beautiful art + knowledge that was for centuries guarded and regulated and segregated to a very small group of people (ie: clergy + nobility + wealthy merchants), now making these treasures accessible for everyone. The printing press didn’t destroy this type of work, it ushered in mass literacy + put it rightfully in the hands of everybody. And, that is my takeaway when working with this deck. Booklet includes translation in 5 languages!
This deck comes inside a shiny flip top box that has an intricate pattern covering all sides. The back of the box has a detailed excerpt regarding the inspiration behind the deck’s creation and a brief synopsis of Manuscript art. My standard reviewer recommendation applies here: I believe this deck would be better suited for travel in one’s go-bag if stored inside a tarot deck bag.
The accompanying 97 page booklet is nearly the exact size outline of the tarot cards, and the font size is larger than most of the little white books currently in print. It makes the booklet very useful because you can leave it open on a surface and peruse it while pulling cards instead of having to pick it up and hold it about six inches from your face to be able to read anything. Also interesting and noteworthy: the booklet includes translations in English, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian; making this deck accessible to a wider, multilingual audience.
Gilded edges in a light copper almost rose gold color are a really nice touch on The Manuscript of Initiations Tarot, and work well thematically with the rest of the deck. And, a version of the same intricate pattern on the box, is also on the back of the cards. However, it should be noted that this cardstock is very thin. I cannot find information about the specific weight of the cardstock on the website, box, or booklet. It is noted on the back of the booklet that the 1st printing included 500 decks, and was done in Odessa, Ukraine. I personally am not bothered by the thin cardstock, it makes me think of the delicate nature of parchment paper and antique publication materials; which in my mind works well with the whole vibe of the project. But, I can see how others might be frustrated by the lack of stiffness in this deck.
The collage work is flawless. I can’t believe that the artist found such a vast array of source materials to work with, let alone synthesizing and arranging them into interesting, harmonious, and cohesive compositions. Looking at The Devil card specifically, one encounters visual references from illuminated manuscripts in both early English language and Arabic, a cosmological wheel with constellations in Arabic, chimeras, anthropomorphized animal soldiers performing executions, ouroboros, bats, scroll work with decaying leaves, and a Devil figure that has scaly limbs, two faces, four horns, and bird feet. And yet, all the layers and symbolism in this iconographic archetypal visual create a fully realized + articulate tarot card that is approachable and resonant. The colors, forms, text, and line work are all balanced elements of the composition.
Perhaps one disturbing visual aspect worth noting for modern audiences is the blatant stereotypes present in racial and ethnic representations. There are outmoded and very obvious “types” used for the human figures. But, that much is to be expected from artwork of the time period(s) that comprise this deck — largely that of Late Antiquity through the Middle Ages. And, even though there are stereotypical representations, there is an effort made on the part of the creators to draw on multiple cultural sources; not just Western Christianity. In fact, one of the focal points of this deck is to visually thread how the West was influenced by earlier, older religious mystical traditions; eventually co-opting those aesthetics and bending them to fit European sensibilities.
Illuminated manuscripts are the base of this project. And, as an aesthetic of the distant past, not everyone is familiar with the valuable information they provided during the time they were created. This combination of text and art illustration in no uncertain terms brought a text to life. It created a living, breathing document that scholars, theologians, nobility, clergy, influential merchants, and monarchs added their brand of intellectual rhetoric to as they passed the documents around, loaned, or traded them amongst their elite circles. It was a sort of distance-learning program in a way. A dialectical method wherein recipients were able to respond to previous comments made along the margins. Hand written headers + footnotes, tables, symbols, appendices, corrections, illustrations, quotes, references to other texts, etc all provided additional context for manuscripts and opportunities to participate in spiritual or intellectual discourse.
At the time of illuminated manuscripts’ height of fashion, the printing press had yet to revolutionize social structures by contributing to mass literacy, and unfortunately much of this work was hoarded by the elite. Like dragons they guarded these treasures for centuries; and today, what is not scanned and made available on the internet is typically locked away from public view in the vaults of museums, universities, and national archives. That being the case, I applaud the creators of Manuscript of Initiations Tarot for providing access to these vivid, intricately detailed, and transcendent materials in the unique format of a tarot deck.
This is an eclectic and eccentric deck that will enthrall anyone interested in art history, Late Antiquity, or the intellectual + social proclivities of the Middle Ages. The accompanying guidebook is thoroughly researched and includes a synopsis of the historical development of tarot lore. It also provides detailed context for the aesthetic dimension of this project by describing how illuminated manuscripts were created and used throughout history. Additionally, the booklet is translated in 5 languages; making it accessible to many linguistic regions. The cardstock is slightly thinner than other tarot decks, but I personally found that this did not impede my interaction with or appreciation of the cards. This is a fascinating RWS variant that artistically stretches the bounds of what typically appears in the visual language of the 78 card cannon. As such, there are many ways to approach this deck; and these cards will surely shed new light on your reading style.